Saturday, September 27, 2008

UFT Urges Department of Education to Save City Funds

By Helping Reserve Pool Educators Find Permanent Posts

Sept. 25

The United Federation of Teachers today reiterated its call for the city Department of Education to help hundreds of seasoned and solid educators do what they are paid to do: teach kids on a full-time basis rather than fill day-to-day vacancies in schools.

Citing the “Let Us Teach” theme of the affected educators, UFT President Randi Weingarten said 1,400 qualified educators in the Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR) are being denied permanent teaching positions because the department did not manage its personnel situation properly.

“By using the ATR teachers to fill vacancies in the way we are proposing – particularly during this period of fiscal uncertainty – millions of dollars can be saved and thousands of kids can be served,” she said.

“Here we have hundreds of dedicated and experienced educators who, through no fault of their own, were excessed from their teaching jobs and are still looking for permanent jobs after many months of trying to get interviews,” Weingarten told reporters during a press conference at UFT headquarters at 52 Broadway in Lower Manhattan. “We have canvassed 160 of them so far and they all report that they have applied for 20 or more vacancies in schools without getting a single interview,” she said.

One such ATR is Camille LoParrino, a 20-year teaching veteran and reading specialist who is currently substituting at the Globe School for Environmental Research. “As an ATR, my experience has been overlooked by the Department of Education so that it can hire less expensive teachers,” she said, adding, “People with 20 or 30 years of experience should be highly regarded, not turned into substitutes.”

“I want to teach and I love to teach, but I have been pushed away,” said Lawrence Teller, an eight-year veteran social studies teacher currently teaching technology classes at Far Rockaway High School. “This is a horrible situation for children and teachers. The best person for the job has been kicked out of the classroom because the Department of Education wants to hire cheaper teachers.”

Weingarten’s salvo against the DOE came in response to The New Teacher Project (TNTP), a non-profit organization that gets a significant portion of its operating revenues from working with the Department of Education to help recruit new teachers, reissuing a report from last spring on the ATRs with an updated afterword bashing the UFT earlier this week.

“Back in the spring we called The New Teacher Project a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Department of Education. We were wrong,” Weingarten said today. “We submitted a Freedom of Information or FOIL request for their financial records and it turns out they receive a third of their contract funding from the DOE. It’s clear they have a financial stake in doing what they’re doing, which only makes things worse.”

“It just didn’t make sense to recruit thousands of new teachers to fill vacancies when there is a pool of seasoned and talented teachers who have been trying for many months to secure permanent positions,” Weingarten noted. “The DOE actively helps new teachers land positions by promoting their availability via e-mail to administrators, organizing job fairs and sending them on interviews. It should do as much for the ATR teachers who are truly facing an uphill battle. They are not being placed or sent on interviews, and the burden is completely on them to find new positions.

“It also doesn’t make sense that there are built-in disincentives deriving from the current funding formula that essentially make it hard for principals to accept a seasoned teacher in a school,” Weingarten said.

“What is most angering about The New Teacher Project’s irresponsible blast fest against the union is that they and the DOE ignored our call for a real moratorium on new hiring until the ATRs are placed,” she said. “Rather than give the ATRs a chance, the DOE hired new teachers knowing full-well that this would happen, and then they had the audacity to blame us.

Weingarten went on to say that the DOE’s restructuring and phasing out of schools has resulted in more and more veteran teachers being placed in the ATR pool.

“The DOE’s treatment of teachers in the ATR pool essentially punishes them for having the courage to work in at-risk schools,” Weingarten said. “It’s not fair to ask great teachers to work in challenging schools, close the schools later and then tell the teachers, as The New Teacher Project proposed, ‘You’re on your own and you may be fired.’ Who would want to take on such a challenge?”

Adding insult to injury, no matter how qualified they might be, many ATR teachers are considered financial liabilities by principals because under the current funding formula individual schools – rather than the central Department of Education – are responsible for the salaries of their teachers. As a result, a principal can save money by hiring a new teacher with a lower salary than that of an ATR teacher to fill a vacancy. The principal can also save by continuing to use ATRs on a day-to-day basis – with the cost covered by the DOE – instead of hiring the ATR to fill the position permanently and assuming responsibility for that teacher’s salary.

“If a principal is benefiting from an ATR teacher paid for by the DOE, the principal has no incentive to hire that teacher,” Weingarten said. “So the ATR pool will continue to grow as long as the DOE continues the status quo.”

Weingarten noted that the union has worked hard to help ATRs find permanent jobs, having filed an age discrimination suit against the DOE as well as a union-initiated grievance that is pending. The union has also sought to negotiate a moratorium on new hires to give the DOE a chance to place ATRs and has cited the funding formula for its negative effect on them. Today Weingarten reiterated her call for the DOE to cover the additional salary costs of ATRs and end the pay disincentive for principals in order to put them on equal footing with new teachers in terms of seeking placements.

She added that in light of Mayor Bloomberg’s latest rounds of budget cuts, the DOE should:

* Establish an immediate hiring freeze at the central DOE and at schools for any license areas where there are people in excess and available for placement.

* Embark upon a redeployment of teachers and other excessed personnel in the ATR pool.
* Develop a program to recertify excessed personnel in additional license areas so that they are available to fill vacancies as they arise.

“Instead of blaming teachers, the DOE would do well to work with the union to find permanent jobs for them,” Weingarten said. “They want to teach, and the kids want and need the benefit of their experience. That’s the solution that works for everyone.”

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